Dopamine Supplements: Can Nootropics Boost This Neurotransmitter?

Written by Angie Arriesgado
featured image for article on dopamine supplements

Think you can do with a bit more motivation in your life to go after every little thing your heart desires? Dopamine supplements may be the answer. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at dopamine and whether nootropics like our Seneca Nootropic Complex can help boost the production of this powerful neurotransmitter in your body.

What is dopamine?

Known as the “reward” chemical, dopamine is an important “messenger” in the brain. It’s a neurotransmitter that is released by neurons (nerve cells) whenever the brain is expecting a reward from achieving something – whether it be big or small. But it’s so much more than the “reward” or “feel good” chemical. As you’ll learn later on, it’s also involved in various mental, emotional, and motor responses (1, 2).

Dopamine is produced in various parts of the brain, including the substantia nigra, hypothalamus, and the ventral tegmental area.

Dopamine in action

When you experience something that feels good, your brain’s reward center gets activated, which then releases dopamine. This feeling of intense pleasure gets etched in your memory and motivates you to seek out that trigger over and over again. Different people have different dopamine triggers. For some, it’s food and alcohol. For others, it’s money, power, sex, drugs, or whatever gives them that memorable “rush”.

Here are examples of dopamine in action:

  • Shopping for a new wardrobe
  • Eating an expensive, juicy burger
  • Dating new people
  • Creating a new work of art
  • Getting recognition for something you’ve done
  • Buying the latest tech gadgets
  • Winning at the gambling table

Doing any of the examples above will give you pleasure, ecstasy, and even euphoria like you’re the luckiest person on earth. That feeling of being high – like you’re on top of the world – is the dopamine doing its job.

But dopamine goes beyond making you feel good. As a neurotransmitter, it’s also key to many functions, such as (3):

  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Movement
  • Attention
  • Cognition
  • Impulse control
  • Sleep
  • Reproductive behavior
  • Regulation of kidney function
  • Food intake regulation

Dopamine is largely a positive influence. But when people crave the “high” it brings them, it can lead to addiction. Dopamine is not the cause of addiction per se, rather it’s the rush it gives that people seek out. For many, seeking that rush can be incredibly powerful and hard to control. Hence the addiction to certain things, like money, fame, sex, and drugs (4).

signs you have low dopamine levels

What happens if you have low dopamine levels?

As mentioned above, dopamine is key to several processes in the body. The right balance is vital for our mental, emotional, and physical health. The signs of low dopamine levels vary greatly. Here’s a table summarizing some of the different symptoms associated with low dopamine levels (5, 6, 7).

Mood and sleep Feeling down and blue
  Trouble sleeping
  Depression
  Low self-esteem
  Feeling demotivated  
  Mood swings
  Anxiety
  Anhedonia
Cognitive function Lack of focus and concentration
  Poor memory
  Reduced alertness
  Slurred speech
  Trouble learning
Motor control Poor coordination
  Fatigue
  Low libido
  Muscle cramps and spasms
  Loss of balance
  Tremors

Meanwhile, dopamine deficiency is typically associated with the following health conditions (1, 5, 8):  

  • Parkinson’s disease 
  • ADHD
  • Schizophrenia
  • Autism
  • Restless legs syndrome

Continue reading for possible dopamine supplements and boosters that can naturally help boost dopamine levels in the body.

What happens when you have excessive dopamine?

Well, too much of a good thing can be bad for you. Dopamine can make the future look bright, but if you’re not careful it can also destroy you. It’s important to learn how to be satisfied and accept the way things are. Otherwise, you’re going to be chasing something all the time, just to get that dopamine rush (9).

In the beginning, too much dopamine will make you feel like you’ve conquered the world. But when you consistently have high dopamine levels, you may experience mania, hallucinations, and delusions. Eventually, it may even lead to the mental disorder schizophrenia (2).

The search for brain boosters

Seneca is an example of a brain-boosting supplement

People have been seeking brain boosters for a long time. But that Bradley Cooper movie, Limitless, effectively planted the idea in many people’s minds that we’re only using a small percentage of our brain. And we need to “unlock” it to experience its full potential!

Brain boosters stimulate the brain and help improve memory, concentration, alertness, mood, and clarity when thinking. But they’re not magic pills that will transform you from a regular Joe into an Einstein-level genius! If only it was that easy…

With that being said, these brain boosters go by a few different names, such as nootropics, smart drugs, cognitive enhancers, and memory supplements.

To know more about this fascinating topic, read our in-depth post on what nootropics are here.

What happens to your brain when on drugs?

Some people mistakenly think drugs like cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines are brain boosters, but they’re really not. When people take drugs for the first time, it’s usually their choice. But once they experience the “high” it gives them and they feel that dopamine rush, they feel compelled to seek that pleasure over and over again.

As time goes by, however, the brain learns to adapt to dopamine and gradually decreases production. As a result, dopamine has less of an impact on the brain’s reward circuit, which means the user may not find the experience as enjoyable as before. The drug user – now addicted – will take even more of the drug hoping to re-experience the euphoria it previously brought (10).

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug use mainly affects these 3 areas of the brain:

  • basal ganglia
  • extended amygdala
  • prefrontal cortex

With these 3 parts affected, continued drug use and addiction will ultimately lead to total dependence on the drug, only feeling happy whilst on the drug, and finding it extremely difficult to make the right judgment and saying no to drug use (4, 10).

Unfortunately, long-term drug use can lead to neuron death. This leads to all sorts of negative behavioral changes, such as stealing, lying, alienating family and friends, withdrawing from society, and more. In a drug addict’s mind, nothing else matters but the drug.

Can dopamine supplements or boosters help improve your dopamine levels?

There is no magical pill, but taking some dopamine-boosting supplements and eating certain foods may help improve your dopamine levels naturally. Here are 5 examples of dopamine supplements and boosters:  

Caffeine

Your favorite cup of coffee in the morning not only helps perk you up (it’s a natural stimulant after all), but coffee also enhances dopamine signaling in the brain. According to one study, consuming typical doses of caffeine (about 300mg per day) helps improve brain function, mood, and alertness (11).

Green tea

Green tea’s dopamine-boosting effects come from the amino acid, L-Theanine, which is said to increase dopamine production in the body (12). L-Theanine has also been found to improve cognitive function, plus it even has an antidepressant effect (13). This potent compound – along with 17 research-backed natural nootropics – is present in our Seneca Nootropic Complex.

Our line-up of probiotics products

Probiotics

Consuming beneficial live bacteria can help boost more than our gut health. Research on the microbiome-gut-brain axis shows that the gut microbiome can influence mental health, hence, the gut’s moniker of being the “second brain” (14).

Probiotics can also promote neurotransmitter production in the gut, including serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and noradrenaline (15).

Protein-rich food

This obviously isn’t a dopamine supplement, but protein-rich foods are excellent sources of Tyrosine and Phenylalanine. These two amino acids are precursors for neurotransmitters like dopamine, meaning they help in the creation of dopamine in the body. Adding more protein to your diet will help your body produce more dopamine (16).

Protein-rich foods are also natural sources of B complex vitamins. These vitamins play a key role in the synthesis and production of dopamine, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters (17).

You’ll find all these protein-based natural nootropics in Seneca Nootropic Complex as well. Each serving of Seneca contains Tyrosine as well as several B vitamins (Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B3, Vitamin B6, Folate, and Vitamin B12).

bottle of intelligent labs ultra pure omega-3 fish oil supplement
Our Ultra Pure Omega-3 is made from triglyceride fish oil

Omega-3 fish oil

Omega-3 fatty acids have a long list of documented health benefits, including the reduction of depression symptoms and anxiety. It also protects the brain, promotes learning, and slows down cognitive decline. Low levels of omega-3 in the brain can affect brain dopamine systems and increase the risk of developing a number of neuropsychiatric disorders, such as Parkinson’s, ADHD, and depression (18).

In addition to eating healthy and taking the right dopamine supplement for you, don’t forget to make the necessary lifestyle changes as well. Get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and sunlight (if you’re fortunate enough to live in a climate that gets plenty of sun)! All these will help you get through the day in high spirits.

So, do dopamine supplements work?

Dopamine is an important brain chemical that is generally well-regulated by the body. However, poor dietary and lifestyle choices can cause a serious imbalance. Fortunately, as we’ve learned in this article, dopamine supplements and natural nootropics like L-Theanine, Tyrosine, and B vitamins (all found in our Intelligent Labs Seneca Nootropic Complex) can help boost the production of this powerful neurotransmitter!

References

(1) The Role of Dopamine and Its Dysfunction as a Consequence of Oxidative Stress, Hugo Juárez Olguín, David Calderón Guzmán, Ernestina Hernández García, Gerardo Barragán Mejía, Oxid Med Cell Longev . 2016;2016:9730467.

(2) Dopamine: Far more than just the ‘happy hormone’, Medical University of Vienna, August 31, 2016

(3) Physiological and Functional Basis of Dopamine Receptors and Their Role in Neurogenesis: Possible Implication for Parkinson’s disease, Akanksha Mishra, Sonu Singh, Shubha Shukla, J Exp Neurosci . 2018 May 31;12:1179069518779829.

(4) Mind Matters: Drugs and the Brain, The National Institute on Drug Abuse 2019

(5) Dopamine deficiency: What you need to know, Medically reviewed by Adam Bernstein, MD, ScD — By Zia Sherrell, MPH

(6) Dopamine, from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/dopamine

(7) The role of dopamine in the pathophysiology and treatment of apathy, T T-J Chong, M Husain, Prog Brain Res . 2016;229:389-426.

(8) Dopamine and the Development of Executive Dysfunction in Autism Spectrum Disorders, Trenton Kriete, David C. Noelle, March 26, 2015

(9) From: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sj6R1Tcjsl8

(10) Introducing the Human Brain, from: https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drugs-brain

(11) Caffeine increases striatal dopamine D2/D3 receptor availability in the human brain, N D Volkow, G-J Wang, J Logan, D Alexoff, J S Fowler, P K Thanos, C Wong, V Casado, S Ferre, D Tomasi, Transl Psychiatry . 2015 Apr 14;5(4):e549.

(12) The neuropharmacology of L-theanine(N-ethyl-L-glutamine): a possible neuroprotective and cognitive enhancing agent, Pradeep J Nathan, Kristy Lu, M Gray, C Oliver, J Herb Pharmacother . 2006;6(2):21-30.

(13) Effects of L-Theanine Administration on Stress-Related Symptoms and Cognitive Functions in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Shinsuke Hidese, Shintaro Ogawa, Miho Ota, Ikki Ishida, Zenta Yasukawa, Makoto Ozeki, Hiroshi Kunugi, Nutrients . 2019 Oct 3;11(10):2362.

(14) The future of psychobiotics, Kirsten Weir December 2018, Vol 49, No. 11 Print version: page 43

(15) Psychobiotics and the Manipulation of Bacteria-Gut-Brain Signals, Amar Sarkar, Soili M Lehto, Siobhán Harty, Timothy G Dinan, John F Cryan, Philip W J Burnet, Trends Neurosci . 2016 Nov;39(11):763-781.

(16) Tyrosine, phenylalanine, and catecholamine synthesis and function in the brain, John D Fernstrom, Madelyn H Fernstrom, J Nutr . 2007 Jun;137(6 Suppl 1):1539S-1547S

(17) B Vitamins in the nervous system: Current knowledge of the biochemical modes of action and synergies of thiamine, pyridoxine, and cobalamin, Carlos Alberto Calderón-Ospina, Mauricio Orlando Nava-Mesa, CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, Volume 26, Issue 1, p. 5-13

(18) N-3 (Omega-3) Fatty Acids: Effects on Brain Dopamine Systems and Potential Role in the Etiology and Treatment of Neuropsychiatric Disorders, Michelle Healy-Stoffel, Beth Levant, CNS Neurol Disord Drug Targets . 2018;17(3):216-232.